San Diego's multi-tattooed, long blond hair having, surf loving Nick Hardwick could very well blend in most Southern California communities if not for a couple of stark differences—his 6'4", 295 lb. frame and the fact that he spends his Sundays in the fall and winter bulldozing other men who are just as big or bigger.
The former high school wrestler is back and presumably healthy this season, as the 2008 off-season surgery that took care of an injury in his right foot came and went with no immediate complications upon his return to action.
Hardwick missed the first three games in 2008 but went on to start in the remaining 13 regular season games and the following two playoff contests.
A healthy and effective Hardwick means a major boost for San Diego's running game, as well as piece of mind for Philip Rivers and the passing game.
He will start the season hoping to regain his 2006 form which eventually led him to a Pro Bowl appearance and a team record 2,578 yards on the ground.
Pros: Excellent vision and tactical recognition of opposing defenses. His wrestling background allows him to outwit and outperform bigger opponents.
He is a fantastic inside run blocker with speed to help on outside runs, and a great pass blocker for pocket passers such as Rivers. His experience and leadership sets tone for rest of line.
Cons: His smaller and leaner size for an offensive lineman that leads to constant injuries. He hasn't played a full 16 games since 2006, the only full season of his career, and his absence produces immediate drop in play for offensive line.
Season Outlook: Resting on Hardwick's inked shoulders are a lot of responsibilities linked to the overall effectiveness of this offense.
San Diego is two different teams when #61 is on the field and off of it.
When Nick is anchoring the line, there's usually smooth sailing to go along with it, when he's not, everyone looks that much worse.